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Despite Success, Buck Showalter And John Harbaugh's Futures In Doubt

November 15, 2017
Time sure does march on, doesn't it? And in the world of sports, one fact of life is truer today than ever before: managers and coaches are hired to be fired.

In fact, former San Francisco 49ers head coach Steve Mariucci recalls talking to team president Carmen Policy about that policy after Mariucci had been on the job a short while.

"So, George Seifert won two Super Bowls for you. Why isn't he still your head coach?" Mariucci asked.

To which Policy said: "You know what, every coach has a shelf life. And you know what else, Steve, you have a shelf life. You won't be here forever."

With that in mind, Buck Showalter just finished up his seventh full season as the Orioles' manager. At one time, his stature in Baltimore seemed unassailable. But after a stunning miscue in choice of relief pitchers during the 2016 Wild Card game against the Toronto Blue Jays and a disappointing 2017 season, the idea that 2018 could be Showalter's final one as Baltimore's skipper doesn't seem so shocking.

The Orioles have been fun and entertaining during the Showalter era. But since the team played the Kansas City Royals in the 2014 American League Championship Series, annual attendance has dropped by more than 400,000 fans. Clearly, with both Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette unsigned beyond 2018, speculation will mount about who might return and who might move on. 

On the football side of things in Baltimore, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has gotten to the top of the mountain, leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl XLVII victory in New Orleans to cap off the 2012 season.

At the time of that Super Bowl win, Harbaugh had a .675 (54-26) regular-season winning percentage during his first five seasons. Since then, Harbaugh's teams have gone a combined 35-38, entering the 2017 bye week.

Overall, Harbaugh has an 89-64 record, which plays out to a .582 winning percentage. The problem for Harbaugh is that he set the bar so high during his first five season seasons that it now feels like he is grasping to try and recreate what once came naturally. At one point, the expression "Play Like a Raven" meant something special. Now? Not so much.

Just before the 2017 season, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti extended Harbaugh beyond the 2017 lame-duck season. Bisciotti's seeming support is so strong that he recently took to the airwaves at a popular Ravens show broadcasted from the Greene Turtle in Ocean City, Md., to trumpet his strong support for Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome.

But Bisciotti's take didn't sit well with a number of fans, which should alarm the longtime Ravens coach.

Getting back to the bigger picture. If I were a betting man, I'd say that the 2018 season will be Showalter's last in the Orioles' dugout. After that, I'd guess that somehow he'll be booted (by himself) upstairs. It's not owner Peter Angelos' modus operandi to fire executives before their contracts are up.

That's what I think will happen. Now, if you ask me the very different question of what should happen, I'd hope that Angelos adds two years to both Duquette and Showalter's deals, taking them through the 2020 season.

The football situation seems to be playing out to a scenario in which the Ravens will miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. Since the Super Bowl victory, the only promising season came in 2014, when then-offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak was foisted upon Harbaugh -- and even that season has its own set of angst. The Ravens went 10-6 and made the playoffs but lost Kubiak to the Denver Broncos.

Since then, Harbaugh has doubled down on two older, respected voices in the game -- first Marc Trestman, who lasted the 2015 season and a handful of games into 2016, and then current offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. 

Harbaugh's playbook in Baltimore has been dotted with a lot of things that were out of his control -- the loss of running back Ray Rice, quarterback Joe Flacco's staggering salary affecting the depth the club used to enjoy, linebacker Zachary Orr's retirement and so on. With all that in mind, Harbaugh's undoing in Baltimore will still come down to his stubbornness and failure to look to a truly inventive new-school offensive mind.

The brand of offensive football Harbaugh has opted in on has turned much of the fan base sour. At the end of the day, that's not good for business, and Bisciotti will agree with Carmen Policy regarding the shelf life of coaches.

But whether Showalter and Harbaugh survive and keep their jobs, one thing is for sure. They have been acts that will be very hard to replace, and the city of Baltimore has been lucky to have them both. 

Issue 239: November 2017